Month: December 2013

Itzel: A DREAMer making a difference


Itzel always knew she was undocumented, she had known it all her life. Her status had never really impacted her life in a major way. She was happy in high school, and didn’t need a driver’s license because she could not afford a car.  Everything in her life was moving down the right path, but when she turned eighteen, things took an unexpected turn.

The nine digits that disrupted her future.

When Itzel went to apply for college, she was unable to get past the first page. She had fantastic grades, she had the support of her teacher, she did everything you were supposed to do to get in to a good school. But her dreams of attending UC Berkeley or Stanford in the fall were halted due to her lack of a Social Security Number. Itzel didn’t have a Social Security number to fill out in the application and realized she couldn’t apply to the schools that she had been looking forward to going to her entire life. She refused to let this limit her, and when her family moved she enrolled in Community College.

Itzel was undaunted, and continued to pursue her dreams.

When she moved from her home in Oregon to San Francisco she enrolled in City College. As an out of state student her fees were sometimes triple what local students were paying. Unlike other students, she could not access traditional loans, financial aid, or other student services. For her, this was a small price to pay to continue her education. At school she heard about a new program designed from Dreamers like her. DACA was her opportunity to finally get the social security number that had barred her from applying to college. Once DACA was launched, it changed Itzel’s life. She was able to apply for DACA by joining the Lending Circles for DREAMers program, where she received mentorship and financial aid through social loans, and received her first work permit.

Living the DREAM.

Now Itzel will be able to pay in-state tuition as a citizen and a resident of San Francisco for one year. She has worked hard all of her life, and she will continue to work hard to attain her American dream. She is proud to be an example of what undocumented youth can be, and is optimistic about what the DREAMer movement can accomplish in the future. “I think things are going to go great and we’re going to look back and say, yes, we made a difference.”

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Jesus: young community builder


When Jesus was five years old, he immigrated to the U.S. with his parents. Jesus’ parents were busy working and job hunting that he and his brother would spend a lot of time in after school care. Jesus felt alone most of the time. He was looking for people who shared his experiences, but felt isolated from the other kids at his school. He thought he had found a group of friends when he fell in with the local gang members that hung out near his school. But he was wrong, the gang members that he had thought were his new family abandoned him when he needed them the most. He knew he had made a huge mistake trusting them.

Jesus realized he had the power to change his life.

After that experience, Jesus worked hard to transform himself into a better student. He worked hard, earned top grades and started winning awards. He found a new family that was always there for him, when he joined the soccer team. Once his parents both found employment, he felt a sense of stability return. Even with his life changing course for the better, and his future looking bright he still felt his outlook was very limited.

Without his citizenship, Jesus’ future was not totally secure. He wouldn’t be able to attend college. We wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere else in the world. Jesus knew from his parent’s experience that his ability to find would would be limited. Soon, he had a ray of hope. He had heard of an announcement of a new program for young people like him. He started to get as much information on DACA as possible. Many in his community were weary of the program. They felt that it was a trick to deport them.  Jesus knew that this was his chance to change his life, and by applying for DACA  he was able to finally get a driver’s license, apply for a job, and go to college. Lending Circles for DREAMers helped Jesus finance the application and get him closer to his dream: to study law and give back to the immigrant community using his own experience.

A new outlook on life.

Jesus now works to help other kids like him. He want’s them to know that they are not alone, and that they can achieve anything they want. Jesus recently gave a speech in front of 600 people at a CORO Leadership seminar and earned an internship with the City of San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs.

“I want people to feel safe in a program like DACA,” he said.  “When immigration reform goes through, I want them to take advantage of whatever programs that are out there. They are there to help us.”

Jesus has helped manage a Community Ambassadors program and conduct outreach to encourage youth to apply for DACA. He works to help other young people like him attend college, get drivers licences, and live the life they have been promised by the American dream. With the help of DACA and Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circles for DREAMers anything is possible for Jesus.

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Bruno: Design dream team


Bruno and his wife, Micaela came to the United States ten years ago with dream of owning their own business. They had years of professional experience as screen printers in Mexico City but with little savings, were worried they wouldn’t be able to see their dream come true. Two separate micro lenders denied Bruno’s applications for a small business loan, both citing his lack of credit history as the reason.

Starting over

After Bruno joined a Lending Circles, his savings and credit score began to increase. In October of 2010 Bruno and Micaela become proud owners of Our Mission Graphics, a custom t-shirt and graphic design store in San Francisco. Eventually, Bruno needed a new vehicle so he applied for a car loan from a local credit union.

When the bank called and told him his credit history qualified him for the loan, he was overjoyed. Bruno says, “I was very happy to know that I had a credit score. I am hoping this car loan will also help me to secure future business loans.”

Our Mission Graphics is growing, but so are the demands of his customers.

“Even if they love a shirt design, if I don’t have the exact color and size in stock, the customer sometimes decides to go elsewhere,” Bruno says.  In the next few years, he hopes to apply for a small business loan to build a larger inventory for Our Mission Graphics, move to a larger location, and hire his first employee.

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Pablo: Aspiring Filmmaker


When Pablo moved to San Francisco 11 years ago from Columbia, he discovered that just because he had no debt, it didn’t mean he would have it easy in building a new life. But without a credit history, he had no score. After joining a Lending Circle and taking financial education classes at MAF, he learned about navigating the U.S. financial system and that to improve his score, he needed to take on affordable debt and pay it off on time. He used his loan towards paying for college and investing in his future career. A Political Science and Journalism student, Pablo is working on his first feature film on the 2014 World Cup qualification process in Brazil.

“Mission Asset Fund gave me really good tools to manage my money.”

“Mission Asset Fund gave me really good tools to manage my money. I’ve had two years without having to work in a restaurant thanks to the things I’ve learned from Mission Asset Fund. I’ve been in school and have been dedicating my time to finish my degree.”

A truly enthusiastic participant, Pablo is always recruiting his friends to join Lending Circles and take advantage of the opportunity to learn more. He has also joined a Lending Circles for Citizenship with MAF to finance another dream: becoming a citizen.

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Helen: A Mom with a Dream


Helen is a single mom who came to Mission Asset Fund with a dream– to rent her own apartment. An immigrant from Guatemala, Helen was an unbanked mother of two small children. Because she couldn’t afford the security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, Helen was forced to rent rooms in three different apartments over the course of a year. Some apartments were so full that hallways were turned into bedrooms. Riddled with excessive moisture and mold, these apartments left Helen’s daughter with a persistent cough.

Because she couldn’t afford the security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, Helen was forced to rent rooms in three different apartments over the course of a year.

While working part-time at local nonprofits, Helen continued her search for a stable apartment for her children. In May 2011, she joined a Lending Circle to build her credit and save for a deposit. Helen’s mom unexpectedly fell ill, so Helen decided to send the money home to help her get the eye surgery she needed. A year later, with financial management training and $4,100 in zero-interest credit-building loans, a Helen emerged with a new credit score of 673. Now, she has her own apartment for her family and even bigger dreams.

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Luis and Zenaida: A family of chefs


Zenaida and Luis reacted differently when they found out Zenaida was pregnant. While Luis shed joyful tears, Zenaida worried about morning sickness.

“But everything happened to Luis. He was sleepy, he was tired, he was sick – I was fine!” she said.

The spunky thirty-something couple from El Salvador had very different experiences with their fathers.  Luis never really knew his dad, while Zenaida still feels the sting of her father’s passing three years ago.

“I was very close to my father and I wanted the same for Luis and Mateo,” she said.

In 2012, Luis found himself working brutal hours with little time left over for his son, Mateo.  He often worked 14-hour days juggling two jobs as a chef.  Zenaida knew it was just a matter of time before he just couldn’t stand it anymore.

A new business idea

So, the couple started their own business, D’maize Catering, in hopes of spending more time together as a family. They quickly d'maize familylearned that they needed credit to take on bigger orders. But, Zenaida had no credit history because she always paid bills in cash.

Zenaida joined a Lending Circle and established a credit score for the first time, an impressive 750! She qualified for a small loan to invest in a car for the business and plans to apply for more to invest in a commercial kitchen and a home for her family.

Now, the couple has 8 employees and regularly cater events for Silicon Valley companies like Foursquare and at food festivals in San Francisco. They continue to be inspired by their son, Mateo, who also wants to be a chef when he grows up.

“Everyone has a dream, but sometimes you need help,” Luis said. “We’re not special. We did it with help from our community.”


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Veronica: A Visionary Restaurateur


An immigrant from Mexico, Veronica came to Mission Asset Fund with a dream of owning a restaurant to serve her Mexico City favorites: gorditas, huitlacoche, huaraches, and pozole. With ingenuity and help from a local food entrepreneur incubator program, Veronica’s business grew from small time catering to a traveling food truck. She even won a developer’s contest for a new storefront space. But without a credit score, Veronica could not qualify for the business loans she needed to supply her new restaurant.

But without a credit score, Veronica could not qualify for the business loans she needed to supply her new restaurant.

After joining the Lending Circles program, Veronica was able to pay down her debt and invest in her business. After two years of financial classes and zero-interest credit-building loans, she raised her credit score to 615. This enabled her to qualify for new lines of credit from wholesale suppliers to further invest in her business. Now, Veronica has 20 employees working with her at her new restaurant in Marin County, El Huarache Loco. Please check out Veronica’s new restaurant to enjoy her delicious food!

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“Even though Filipinos are the largest Asian American population in California, no one else was addressing the issues of low-wage Pilipino workers. That’s why Pilipino Worker’s Center was formed,” says Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, the Executive Director of Pilipino Worker’s Center.

Aqui goes to work each morning because she thrives on transformations.

She loves seeing reserved domestic workers become confident leaders and advocates. She also noticed how hard they work to improve their finances. She says, “If you are an immigrant in California, you can get a bank account but a loan is something you cannot do. You have to go through informal networks that aren’t always reliable.” Without family and friends nearby to help, domestic workers are in trouble when crisis strikes: “Our members work as live-in caregivers making less than minimum wage. When a client passes away, they are without work or a place to stay and most times don’t have any savings.”

Aqui recognized that without access to affordable credit her clients were one unexpected expense away from financial crisis, so she called Jose to propose a partnership. Although Jose was interested, at the time, Mission Asset Fund was focused on expanding in the Bay Area. Aqui didn’t give up. She called Jose every few months to see if he was ready yet.

About a year later, when the time was right, the two organizations joined together to bring Lending Circles to Los Angeles. With the help of the LA2050 challenge, the partnership expanded. PWC now offers a full suite of social loan programs to their low-income clients: Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, Lending Circles for Dreamers and Security Deposit Loans.

A new place to live

Larry Itliong Village, a new housing development built by PWC

In the fall of 2013, PWC celebrated the opening of a new low-cost housing complex in Los Angeles. The building has 45 residential units so that low income tenants can rent for as low as $300 a month, depending on their income and family size. But even affording a security deposit can pose a challenge – that’s why Aqui’s now offering the Security Deposit Loan program. They enrolled their first tenants in early 2014.

Aqui says, “Mission Asset Fund created an incredible back structure and it was so easy. Jose has helped us get our first funding with a local bank and now we’re hoping to get more funding so we can keep expanding this program.”

At PWC, members call Lending Circles “Paluwagan”. One member, Manna, is a trafficking survivor who was trapped in a house for two years and was forced to sleep on a dog bed. With help from PWC and Lending Circles, Manna’s life was transformed. She started saving money every month and building relationships.

For Filipino domestic workers in Los Angeles, those kinds of relationships can lead to new jobs. When the Lending Circles group comes together, members share their struggles and successes. Aqui says, “In Paluwagan, someone will say they are looking for a job. You know what happens? One of the other members finds one for them.” Watch more here:

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Alicia: Tamale trailblazer


When Alicia first started her tamale business, she went door to door selling homemade tamales with her eight-year-old son, Pedro. Each week, she had enough money to buy supplies for 100 tamales and after she sold them all, she would bring home a tiny profit. A good week would end with Alicia making a $200 profit. She was working so hard but there was no way with that little profit that she could take care of all her bills.

A better future

The family struggled with unemployment and business debt. It was a very frustrating and stressful time for her but Alicia kept going because she believed in her tamale business. Joining a Lending Circle got Alicia her first loan for $1,000, which helped her to eventually open her own food cart business in San Francisco: Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas. Taking MAF’s financial management classes and paying her loans off on time helped Alicia get her finances in order.

“Before when my kids asked me to buy things, I would say ‘no, you have to wait.’ Now, they are surprised when I say ‘yes, let’s go!'”

Alicia went from selling 100 tamales by her self to managing 7 employees to make 3,000 tamales a week. You’ll soon be able to find Alicia’s Tamales in Whole Foods later this year and she’s working on a business plan to open up her first restaurant.

Rave reviews

“On Mondays, we make the fillings.Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we put the tamales together. Thursdays and Fridays, we package and deliver them to our happy customers!” Alicia said.

One of her happy customers is Heather Watkins, who will be serve Alicia’s delicious tamales at her upcoming wedding.

“There is so much to say about Alicia’s Tamales. Her whole heart and soul is transferred through her wonderful food. She is changing the lives of her community and family with her business. Her joy and hard work makes everyone around her feel like being apart of this movement is exactly where they are supposed to be, and inspires others to join in. My fiancee and I are honored to have such a trailblazer be apart of our wedding day,” she said.

After participating in Lending Circles, Alicia has been able to save money and plans to continue paying down her debt to live her American Dream. With the success of her food cart and catering service, she has some exciting projects in the work. You’ll soon be able to find Alicia’s Tamales in Whole Foods later this year and she’s working on a business plan to open up her first restaurant!

“We have a saying in my business,” Alicia said. “My tamales are stuffed with love and the best people are stuffed with my tamales!”

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Christina Ruiz is the owner of TopShelf Boutique, San Francisco’s first-ever fashion truck, opened in May 2012. A spin on the popular food truck movement, TopShelf is a traveling store full of hip yet affordable clothes. Owner Christina is a former bartender and fashion school graduate who fell into school debt. After paying it off, she was left with a damaged credit score and little savings – challenges for a small business entrepreneur. 

Christina says, “I went to fashion school and racked up a little bit of debt. I paid it all off but it damaged me for a while. And, you know, ten years later when you want to start a business that stuff comes back to haunt you.”

That’s when she enrolled in Lending Circles at the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center where she received the small business supports she needed to launch her truck. Christina’s story has been featured by Grist Magazine and in NPR’s California Report:

She’s been astounded by the program’s impact. “I couldn’t even get a credit card for a $100 limit from my bank before the lending circle. Afterwards without even re-applying I just starting getting letters in the mail saying you’ve been pre-approved for $1,000 and then $5,000.”

With a regular following and a booming business, Christina was able to realize another dream: to open a boutique. In June of 2012, she was thrilled to announce the opening of a her new shop inside San Francisco’s Crocker Galleria. Watch her story here:


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